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Taming Prophetic Religion? Faith-Based Activism and Welfare Provision

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This article examines the current debate in the United States (primarily) and Britain regarding government-funded social service provision via faith-based institutions. By highlighting the tension between the 'priestly' and 'prophetic' roles of public religion, it argues for the critical importance of protecting religion's prophetic role even as society moves toward more extensive public financing of priestly social service provision. The article first outlines contemporary prophetic religion in the United States, especially faith-based community organizing (also known as broad-based community organizing) efforts, emphasizing three facets of the field: its scale, its role in building social capital, the issues it has addressed. Secondly, the article argues that, despite the narrow partisan tenor of recent faith-based social service provision in the US, it may have redeeming features that new leaders will want to preserve. However, H. R. Niebuhr's (1951) analysis of the relationship between religion and culture is invoked to characterize four key tensions between priestly and prophetic religion that may be exacerbated by governmental funding. The conclusion outlines several approaches through which practitioners, policymakers, the press, and scholars can help society maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of such funding.

Affiliations: 1: University of New Mexico, USA


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